By Tracey Cheek
Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, made its second successful flight on Friday, marking yet another milestone on its path to commercial space travel.
"Today was a huge step forward for the company," Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides told Cheddar following the successful flight.
VSS Unity launched in the Mojave Desert, a place Whitesides noted was the "birthplace of supersonic flight," at 8:00 a.m. Pacific Time, reaching a height of 295,007 feet, and achieving a boost speed of Mach 3.04 for the first time ever. By comparison, Mach 1 is the speed of sound, which is about 760 miles per hour at sea level.
The company's successful flight created three new astronauts in the process. Chief Pilot Dave Mackay and co-pilot Michael Masucci were in control, with Chief Astronaut Instructor Beth Moses in the cabin to evaluate the in-flight customer experience. It was the first time a test passenger was onboard a Virgin Galactic space flight. Moses was also the first woman to ever fly on a commercial space vehicle.
The company is already selling tickets for its first commercial flights. Whitesides said about 600 people are already signed up for a round-trip ticket at its current price of $250,000.
Whitesides, who is also the CEO of The Spaceship Company and was previously Chief of Staff at NASA, said the goal is to bring the experience of space flight to more people. He believes sending people to space will ultimately benefit Planet Earth.
"I think it's super important for the whole world to get the perspective that we are truly on a spaceship together, Spaceship Earth," said Whitesides. "I think having dozens and eventually hundreds and thousands of people going to space with us and with other companies is going to have a huge impact here on planet Earth."
Competition in the space exploration industry is picking up speed. Elon Musk's company SpaceX just launched a historic mission with Israel's first private moon lander. Whitesides said that competition is a good thing, but noted that the company's competitors all have slightly different goal. For Virgin Galactic, he said the focus remains on commercial space tourism.
"At the end of the day, though, we have to create safe products, we have to create a safe experience, and we know that. We're not going to be racing with anybody else, we're just going to be focused on creating the best possible experience that we can ーand the reality is this is going to be a supply-constrained market for the foreseeable future. There's just so many people who would love to go to space, that the real thing is we just have to create something that could take them up safely, and then over time we'll add more vehicles."
For full interview click here.